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British Lawmakers Pave Way for New Genetic Research

British lawmakers voted Monday to allow the use of animal-human hybrid embryos in stem cell research. These new embryos will be created in labs injecting empty animal eggs with human genetic material. For VOA, Tom Rivers reports from London.

Following heated debate in the House of Commons, a resolution aimed at banning research into so-called human-animal embryo development came to a vote.

"The ayes to the right were 176, the nos to the left were 336. The nos have it. The nos have it."

That final vote tally means that research in Britain into the cutting edge field will now be allowed despite strong reservations from religious leaders and some politicians, including Edward Leigh from the Conservative Party.

"This is ethically wrong and almost certainly, medically useless or if not useless there is no evidence as yet to substantiate it," he said.

On the other side of the argument, Liberal-Democrat legislator Lembit Opik said to outlaw such research would be a blow to those now suffering from genetic diseases.

"This is the only way we will really develop effective treatments and to hold off means that we actually take a precautionary principle which actually in effect will kill all of those people who could potentially be saved," said Opik.

Leading genetic scientist, Dr. Stephen Minger from London's King's College, says the vote will open the door to much more intensive stem cell research. Stem cells are those undifferentiated cells that can turn into many different types of tissue to treat specific diseases and disorders.

"These cell lines will be used by research groups throughout the world to generate new therapies for disease, therapies that would certainly, we simply do not have at the current time," Dr. Minger said.

The research is believed to lead to the development of new treatments for human maladies, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

The new law, which replaces a 20-year-old statute, provides the newly created embryos could be kept for up to 14 days to harvest stem cells before being destroyed.

British scientists hope the new legislation will help keep Britain at the cutting edge of genetic research.